Social Security Inches Up as a Public Concern

by Lydia Saad

No impact of State of the Union speech seen on public's views on Iraq or the economy

PRINCETON, NJ -- President George W. Bush may have hoped to use his latest State of the Union address to jump start public support for making Social Security reform a legislative priority. Indeed, Bush spent nearly one-quarter of his speech addressing Social Security reform. But Gallup measures what Americans consider to be the most important problems facing the nation, and the latest Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 7-10, 2005, suggests Bush had only moderate success sparking support for Social Security change. Over the past month, the percentage mentioning Social Security as the nation's most important problem rose eight percentage points, from 5% in early January to 13% currently. 

 

One might have expected Bush's speech to have a bit more impact on public opinion about Social Security, seeing as he positioned it as the primary domestic issue in need of remedy. In fact, more than 1,100 words of Bush's Feb. 2 address to Congress spoke to Social Security issues. The only other domestic issue to come close was the economy, with approximately 700 words in the speech dedicated to economic concerns. But unlike his ideas for Social Security reform, Bush couched his economic proposals -- ranging from tax cuts to tort reform -- within an upbeat assessment of economic conditions.

Bush's 2005 State of the Union Address

Number of Words in Speech

Percentage of Speech

 

%

Social Security

1,115

22

Iraq

978

19

Building democracy/freedom

881

17

Economy

717

14

Anti-terrorism

415

8

Stem cell research

154

3

Troubled youth

144

3

DNA evidence

104

2

Defense of Marriage Act

100

2

Immigration

93

2

Judicial appointments

73

2

HIV/AIDS

60

1

Introduction/Conclusion

250

5

 

 

Total

5,084

100%

No Change in Iraq Assessments

Bush's focus on Iraq in the State of the Union address dealt more with the successes than the challenges still facing the United States in that country. Perhaps as a result, Gallup measured no increase in the public mentioning the situation in Iraq as our country's most important problem. The latest poll finds 24% mentioning Iraq, virtually the same as it has been for several months.

Furthermore, despite Bush's heralding of successful democratic elections in Iraq, there has been no change in Americans' divided assessments of the war in Iraq. About half (48%) say it was worth going to war in Iraq, up slightly from 46% in January. The other half of the public says it was not worth going to war.  

 

Although Bush dedicated more than 800 words of spirited rhetoric to the virtues of spreading democracy around the globe, Americans are no more convinced today than they were two years ago that this ought to be one of the most important goals of U.S. foreign policy. While a total of 70% consider this goal to be either "very" or "somewhat" important, just 3 in 10 say it is very important. Building democracy in other countries ranks last on a list of nine different foreign policy goals for which Gallup has tracked public support in recent years.

27. Next, I'm going to read a list of possible foreign policy goals that the United States might have. For each one please say whether you think it should be a very important policy goal of the United States, a somewhat important goal, not too important a goal, or not an important goal at all. How about…


2005 Feb 7-10

Very important

%

Preventing future acts of international terrorism

82

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons/other weapons of mass destruction

82

Securing adequate supplies of energy

70

Defending our allies' security

57

Maintaining superior military power worldwide

56

Promoting and defending human rights in other countries

52

Protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression

40

Helping to improve the standard of living of less-developed nations

38

Building democracy in other countries

31

No Increase in Consumer Confidence

Bush addressed his first term economic achievements saying, "In the past four years, we provided tax relief to every person who pays income taxes, overcame a recession, opened up new markets abroad, prosecuted corporate criminals, raised homeownership to its highest level in history, and in the last year alone, the United States has added 2.3 million new jobs."

But, according to Gallup's consumer confidence trends, the president did not completely persuade the public. By a 60% to 40% margin, Americans remain more negative than positive in their evaluation of current economic conditions. The 40% now describing the economy as "excellent" or "good" is nearly identical to the 41% recorded in January.

There was also no change in Americans' outlook on the economy. Slightly more still say the economy is getting better rather than getting worse, by a 47% to 44% margin. That is virtually unchanged from the 48% to 42% margin recorded in January.  

In 1994, former president Bill Clinton used his State of the Union address to launch major reform initiatives on healthcare and crime. Gallup's 1994 pre- and post-speech surveys showed double-digit increases in the percentage mentioning both of these problems. There was a 12-point increase in the percentage of Americans naming crime as the most important problem, rising from 37% to 49%. Similarly, the number claiming healthcare problems to be most important rose from 20% to 31%.

Even though the percentage increase was not much different from the 8% seen today for Social Security, the initial level of public concern for healthcare and crime was higher, giving Clinton what appeared to be a mandate for curing those problems in the coming years. Whether Bush has such a mandate on Social Security today remains in question, but it would appear that Bush has more work to do to convince Americans that restructuring Social Security is as imperative as he says it is.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,008 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 7-10, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

4. What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?  [Open-ended]

Feb
7-10,
2005

Jan
3-5,
2005

Dec
5-8,
2004

Nov
7-10,
2004

Oct
11-14,
2004

Sep
13-15,
2004

Aug
9-11,
2004

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

29

31

29

38

40

37

41

1

Economy in general

12

12

12

17

21

21

21

2

Unemployment/jobs

7

11

10

14

12

12

15

3

Federal budget deficit/federal debt

5

3

3

4

3

3

2

4

Taxes

2

2

2

2

2

1

2

5

High cost of living/inflation

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

6

Lack of money

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

7

Gap between rich and poor

1

1

1

*

*

*

1

8

Fuel/Oil prices

1

1

2

1

2

1

1

9

Corporate corruption

*

*

1

1

*

*

*

10

Wage issues

*

1

*

1

1

*

1

11

Foreign trade/trade deficit

*

1

*

1

*

1

*

Recession

--

*

--

--

*

*

--

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NON-ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

83

76

76

78

78

82

76

1

Situation in Iraq/war

24

25

23

26

23

23

21

2

Social Security/Medicare issues

13

5

2

5

3

2

2

3

Poor healthcare/hospitals; high cost of healthcare

10

9

7

12

13

14

11

4

Terrorism

9

8

12

13

16

19

18

5

Dissatisfaction with government/ Congress/politicians/candidates; poor leadership; corruption

7

7

6

4

4

6

6

6

Ethics/moral/religious/family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity

6

6

10

7

6

6

5

7

Education/poor education/access to education

5

4

3

2

5

5

6

8

Poverty/hunger/homelessness

4

5

2

1

2

2

2

9

Foreign aid/focus overseas

4

3

1

3

3

2

3

10

National security

4

3

4

4

5

7

5

11

Immigration/illegal aliens

3

2

2

1

2

2

2

12

International issues/problems

3

2

3

3

2

3

2

13

Abortion

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

14

Drugs

1

2

2

1

*

2

1

15

Judicial system/courts/laws

1

2

2

3

2

2

1

16

Environment/pollution

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

17

Crime/violence

1

2

1

1

1

1

2

18

Welfare

1

1

*

*

1

1

1

19

Unifying the country

1

1

2

2

1

1

1

20

Lack of respect for each other

1

2

2

1

1

1

1

21

Care for the elderly

1

*

*

*

1

1

1

22

Homosexuality/gay issues

1

*

*

2

1

2

1

23

The media

1

*

1

1

*

*

*

24

Race relations/racism

*

1

*

*

--

*

*

25

Children's behavior/way they are raised

*

*

1

1

*

1

1

26

Election year/presidential choices/election reform

*

*

*

2

1

1

1

27

Guns/gun control

*

*

--

*

--

*

--

28

Lack of energy sources; the energy crisis

*

*

*

*

*

1

*

29

Space program/NASA

*

--

--

--

--

--

--

30

Abuse of power

*

*

*

*

*

*

--

Overpopulation

--

*

*

*

*

*

*

Cancer/diseases

--

*

*

--

--

--

*

Child abuse

--

--

*

--

--

*

--

Lack of military defense

--

--

--

*

*

--

--

Other non-economic

2

3

3

4

4

3

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No opinion

2

4

2

1

2

2

4

Total

138%

134%

145%

143%

155%

146%

141%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Less than 0.5%

5. How would you rate economic conditions in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?



Excellent



Good


Only
fair



Poor

No
opinion

2005

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Feb 7-10

3

37

44

16

*

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Jan 3-5

3

38

42

17

*

2004

 

 

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

2

35

43

19

1

2004 Nov 7-10

3

33

44

20

*

2004 Oct 11-14

2

32

44

22

*

2004 Oct 9-10

4

31

40

24

1

2004 Sep 13-15

3

36

39

22

*

2004 Aug 9-11

3

36

40

21

*

2004 Jul 30-Aug 1

6

32

39

23

*

2004 Jul 8-11

5

32

41

21

1

2004 Jun 3-6

3

32

44

21

*

2004 May 2-4

2

27

43

27

1

2004 Apr 5-8

3

31

44

22

*

2004 Mar 8-11

2

30

44

24

*

2004 Feb 9-12

2

31

46

21

--

2004 Jan 12-15

3

34

42

21

--

2004 Jan 2-5

3

40

41

16

*

* Less than 0.5%

6. Right now, do you think that economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting better or getting worse?           

Getting
better

Getting
worse

SAME
 (vol.)

No opinion

2005

%

%

%

%

(NA) 2005 Feb 7-10

47

44

7

2

 

 

 

 

(NA) 2005 Jan 3-5

48

42

7

3

2004

 

 

 

 

(NA) 2004 Dec 5-8

47

42

8

3

(NA) 2004 Nov 7-10

49

43

6

2

(NA) 2004 Oct 11-14

39

50

8

3

(NA) 2004 Oct 9-10

43

48

7

2

(NA) 2004 Sep 13-15

47

45

6

2

(NA) 2004 Aug 9-11

45

46

7

2

(NA) 2004 Jul 30-Aug 1

48

43

7

2

(NA) 2004 Jul 8-11

51

38

7

4

(NA) 2004 Jun 3-6

47

45

6

2

(NA) 2004 May 2-4

43

51

4

2

(NA) 2004 Apr 5-8

47

45

6

2

(NA) 2004 Mar 8-11

44

47

7

2

(NA) 2004 Feb 9-12

53

40

6

1

(NA) 2004 Jan 12-15

53

39

6

2

(NA) 2004 Jan 2-5

66

27

4

3

27. Next, I'm going to read a list of possible foreign policy goals that the United States might have.  For each one please say whether you think it should be a very important foreign policy goal of the United States, a somewhat important goal, not too important a goal, or not an important goal at all.  How about -- [ITEMS A-H ROTATED, THEN ITEM I READ]?

            E.  Building democracy in other countries   


Very important


Somewhat important


Not too important

Not important
at all


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Feb 7-10

31

39

19

8

3

 

 

 

 

 

2003 Feb 3-6

29

46

17

5

3

2001 Feb 1-4

32

46

16

5

1

34. All in all, do you think it was worth going to war in Iraq, or not? 

 

Worth
it

Not worth it

No
opinion

 

Worth
it

Not
worth it

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

 

 

%

%

%

2005 Feb 7-10

48

50

2

 

2003 Dec 15-16 ^ †

65

33

2

2005 Jan 3-5

46

52

2

 

2003 Dec 14 †‡♠

62

33

5

2004 Oct 9-10 ^

44

54

2

 

2003 Dec 5-7 †

59

39

2

2004 Sep 3-5 ^

49

48

3

 

2003 Nov 14-16 †

56

42

2

2004 Aug 23-25 ^

51

46

3

 

2003 Nov 3-5 †

54

44

2

2004 Aug 9-11 ^

49

48

3

 

2003 Oct 24-26 †

54

44

2

2004 Jul 8-11 ^

47

50

3

 

2003 Oct 6-8 †

55

44

1

2004 Jun 21-23 ^

46

51

3

 

2003 Sep 19-21 †

50

48

2

2004 Jun 3-6 ^

46

52

2

 

2003 Sep 8-10 †

58

40

2

2004 May 21-23

45

52

3

 

2003 Aug 25-26 †

63

35

2

2004 May 7-9 ^

44

54

2

 

2003 Jul 25-27 †

63

34

3

2004 May 2-4

50

47

3

 

2003 Jul 18-20 †

63

35

2

2004 Apr 16-18 ^

52

46

2

 

2003 Jun 27-29 †

56

42

2

2004 Apr 5-8

50

47

3

 

2003 Apr 14-16 ‡

73

23

4

2004 Mar 26-28

56

41

3

 

2003 Apr 9 ‡♠

76

19

5

2004 Mar 5-7

55

43

2

 

2003 Apr 7-8 ‡

67

30

3

2004 Jan 29-Feb 1

49

49

2

 

2003 Mar 24-25 ‡

68

29

3

2004 Jan 9-11

59

38

3

 

 

 

 

^

Asked of a half sample.

WORDING: All in all, do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not?

WORDING: All in all, do you think the current situation in Iraq is worth going to war over, or not?

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

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